Why Santa Muerte is an Austrian (too)

R J Evans published an article on the not quite standard saint Santa Muerte in Central America The Strange Cult of Santa Muerte: Saint Death. In it, he claimed quite correctly an Austrian influence on this strange phenomenon. As this might seem a strange connotation to many, I am following it up with information on the strange burial rites of the Austrian Imperial family. 



Vienna as the capital of the Austrian Empire harbours the famous Kapuzinergruft (Crypt of the Capuchins) with the sarcophagi of the Imperial family since Vienna became the capital. It is one of the weirdest places in the world, but a must have seen if ever you get to Vienna. The sarcophagi range from simple through classic into the weird, fantastic and grotesque.

Looking at these pictures you immediately get the connection to Saint Death. It is also startling to see the crowns of Austria, Hungary, and Bohemia settled upon skulls. Many Austrians come to the crypt on a regular basis and leave flowers for their favourite Imperial, and many still remember Zita and her post Second World War efforts in the United States and Canada to raise money for civilian relief in Austria and Hungary.

What most people don’t know: The bodies buried in the crypt are all incomplete, because before burial the heart had been removed for separate burial. The place were all these hearts are kept is the monastery of Muri in Switzerland. Even though the abbey was secularised in the 19th century by the Swiss, the custom persists.

Switzerland therefore was on high alert after the death of Her Imperial & Royal Majesty Zita in 1989, as the family burial would be taking place in secrecy in Muri. On such occasions, all members of the Imperial family gather, and security measures are strident. A week later, the unofficial state burial took place in Vienna.

Why would the Austrian Imperial family choose to have their hearts kept in Switzerland, the most democratic of countries? They are one of the oldest Swiss families and most of them have a Swiss passport these days. Their ancestral home is Castle Habsburg in the Canton and Republic of Argovia, where they resided as Counts of Habsburg until 1240, when Rudolf was elected king of Germany.

Large parts of modern Switzerland are made up of original Habsburg counties, and the family retains lands and castles in Switzerland. Truly Swiss, they never use their titles in Switzerland, and many obscure and quite a lot of prominent members of the Imperial family live a peaceful and private life among the Swiss who gracefully ignore their status. 


Further reading
Bohemia: Desert Country By The Sea
Museum City: Basel
Zurich is More Than Banks